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Suu Kyi best bet for Rohingyas

By S. N. M. Abdi
September 15, 2015

I have a golden piece of advice for Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of the Nov. 8 landmark general election in Myanmar. The upcoming polls will not only decide her political future but will be a major test for the fledgling democracy battling military rule in one of the most secretive corners of the world.

Let me say upfront that I have a vested interest in Suu Kyi’s electoral success and am offering the advice in the earnest hope that the Nobel Peace laureate will stand by Rohingya Muslims, who are being subjected to the worst form of apartheid in the 21st century, after taking over the reins of her country. 

As a first step, Suu Kyi must take a leaf out of Sonia Gandhi’s book. She should zero in on her own Manmohan Singh in order to defeat the generals’ designs to deny her the presidency through Clause 59(F) of the military-drafted constitution. The clause disqualifies anyone whose spouse or children are foreign nationals from holding Myanmar’s highest office. 

Michael Aris, her late husband, was a British academic. Her sons, Alexander and Kim, hold British passports. So even if Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy wins hands down and NLD MPs want Suu Kyi as president, she still won’t be sworn in as president thanks to 59(F) the sole purpose of which is to ensure that she never becomes the country’s ruler.

In 2004, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had made a big issue out of Gandhi’s “foreign” origin after she led the Congress Party to a massive victory evicting the BJP from power. Although the Indian constitution didn’t disqualify her from becoming prime minister, she stumped everyone by stepping aside and appointing her proven loyalist, Manmohan Singh, as the premier. The masterstroke silenced the BJP and cleared the decks for Gandhi to rule by proxy from 2004 to 2014.

Now Suu Kyi must quickly find her own Manmohan Singh — an NLD MP in whom she has full faith: Someone who will happily be her puppet. After the NLD’s victory in the November election, Suu Kyi can appoint as president a party MP who enjoys her unwavering trust and will unquestioningly execute all her orders. This is the best way to bypass Section 59F and beat the generals at their own game.

Just last month, Iyad Madani, Secretary General of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), articulated the concern of all right thinking citizens of the world when he urged Suu Kyi to speak up for Myanmar’s 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims who are being systematically disenfranchised in the run-up to the general election.

It is hardly feasible for Suu Kyi to take up cudgels on behalf of Rohingya Muslims right away. Any such move would immediately alienate Buddhists who account for nearly 90 percent of Myanmar’s population. And, without Buddhist support, there is no question of NLD emerging as the single largest party — a prerequisite for Suu Kyi’s Manmohan Singh becoming the president.

The persecution of Rohingya Muslims is comparable to the oppression of blacks in South Africa or Jews in Hitler’s Germany. Already, there are restrictions on their movement within the country, employment and access to education and health care. A Rohingya couple is not allowed to have more than two children. And now authorities are stripping them of their right to vote, which would reduce them to a zero. 

Suu Kyi is a wise and experienced 70-year-old lady. She is a global human rights hero. The citation for her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize explicitly said the awarding committee wanted to honor her “for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means.”

Let’s hope and pray that Suu Kyi emerges as the most powerful person in Myanmar after the general election. She is the best bet for Rohingya Muslims being subjected to pogrom after pogrom. Many have slammed her for not taking a firm stand against Buddhist extremism. One hopes that she will take a bold and principled stand after coming to power and do whatever is necessary to safeguard Rohingya rights.

Without her, Rohingyas are doomed to statelessness, unless of course Myanmar’s ASEAN neighbors like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia fully backed by the US step in and knock some sense into Buddhist heads before it’s too late.

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